Domestic enrolments at some polytechnics are soaring as academic year begins

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John Gerritsen for RNZ

Some polytechnics are reporting significant growth in domestic enrolments as the academic year begins.

Manukau Institute of Technology deputy chief executive (Pasifika) Peseta Sam Lotu-liga said its enrolments were up by more than 70 percent compared to the same time last year.

"We're certainly seeing some pretty extraordinary growth," he told RNZ's Morning Report.

"The subjects we're experiencing high growth are subjects like engineering trades, professional engineering, construction and automotive."

Lotu-Iiga said the growth was driven by factors including the government's targeted funding scheme that waived fees for many trade courses, and the opening of the institute's new trades campus in Manukau.

He said there were pockets of relatively high unemployment in the Counties-Manukau area which also contributed to the enrolments.

Manukau Institute of Technology
Manukau Institute of Technology Photo credit: Claire Eastham-Farrelly.

Waikato Institute of Technology executive director of products and planning Warwick Pitts said enrolments were higher than at the same time last year and the institute had leased extra facilities and hired more teaching staff to cope with the growth.

"Our domestic enrolments are around 23 percent higher than the same time last year. That's translating into about 650 more equivalent full-time students than we would have had at the same time last year," he said.

Pitts said enrolments could move even further ahead of last year's totals because applications for courses were about 41 percent higher than last year and the start date for most courses was in two weeks.

He said the institute was already approaching the maximum number of students the Tertiary Education Commission had agreed to fund at Wintec this year and it was asking its parent body, Te Pūkenga, how it could get more funding to exceed that total.

"We are getting close to the numbers that we've agreed with the Tertiary Education Commission and are beginning to have conversations with Te Pūkenga around how we can ensure that we're not turning away any learners," he said.

Pitts said the most popular subjects were in health and trades and the enrolments were coming from both school-leavers and people who were changing career.

"We're seeing application and enrolment growth across all age brackets," he said.

Pitts said the health courses included nursing and midwifery and the popular trade courses included engineering, carpentry, electrical, and plumbing.

He said the trades courses were fee-free because they were covered by the government's targeted-funding scheme to encourage study in particular subjects, but the health courses were not.

Pitts said the institute had about 2100 applications from foreign students who wanted to study at Wintec when the borders reopened.

"A lot of those came in in the last six months of 2020 because there was obviously still at that time some conversation around whether or not New Zealand's borders would be open in the first quarter of 2021," he said.

He said the institute had assessed the students' applications and told them they could apply for a study visa once the borders reopened.

Unitec reported a 25 percent increase in domestic enrolments, with especially big increases in construction and business courses.

It said despite the borders being closed, it had received 4632 applications from foreign students, nearly the same number as last year.

Unitec's head of engineering and construction Paul Jeurissen said some of the students enrolled in his courses were retraining because Covid-19 had cost them their jobs.

"We're seeing a lot of people from the tourism industry and obviously the airport that have been displaced because of Covid," he said.

"Examples would be in surveying where airline pilots are leaning towards taking up surveying because there's a lot of drone technology."

He said the school had also noted staff from hardware stores retraining so they could take more hands-on roles in the construction industry.

Other institutes reported more modest increases.

Ara in Canterbury said the number of domestic students applying to it this year was 7 percent higher than last year.

In Hawke's Bay, EIT chief executive Chris Collins said enrolments were 6 percent higher, which equated to 117 more full-time students than at the same time in 2020.

He said the economy was relatively strong in the institute's region and there was strong demand for trades courses.

Te Pūkenga, the national institute of which all 16 polytechnics are subsidiaries, said it had government funding for 69,800 full-time students this year, an increase of 3000 over last year.

The Tertiary Education Commission said it was very confident it could cope with any unexpected changes in enrolments.

It said if institutes had higher demand for courses than TEC had funded, they could request additional funding.